The rainbow comes after the storm, but what comes after the rainbow?
Nineteen weeks ago I became the mother of two. This is currently what defines me. When I go to nursery to pick up firstborn they shout my daughter’s name and say ‘Mummy’s here’ (I prefer Mam but they won’t listen), they don’t say ‘your mummy’s here’ or ‘the woman you know as mummy is here’, God forbid they call me Martha. Mummy is my name.
I have been attempting this piece of writing for about seven of those weeks, in fact my daughter has grown up so quickly since the arrival of her brother that I am now ‘Mum’ (Still not bloody Mam though!). At first I thought I would write a hilarious survival guide to living with two children (seriously, you should meet me, I’m a hoot! I had a whole skit about nappies and Mount Vesuvius that would have had you in stitches.) but do you know what? It’s too raw. Things aren’t that funny yet. My section scar still hurts, my brain is still fried, my body is not my own and the long forgotten politics of having a baby fresh out of the packaging are starting to re-emerge into my life. You know what I mean? The endless conversations you don’t want to have, with strangers on the metro about whether or not your baby is ‘good’, the delicate balancing act you and your partner have to perform so not to kill each other, the daily reminders that mums are treated terribly across the globe all the bastard time. Those politics.
Also, who the fuck am I to be dishing out any sort of practical guidance to living with two? I am writing this in the dark, on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom at 9.30pm because she doesn’t sleep, nor will she be left alone to not sleep.
I will be the first to admit that babies aren’t really my thing. This first bit of life is all about survival. Simply finding your feet as this new shape of a family is exhausting. And even though you’ve done it before, somehow this time it is different. It’s harder. There are now two people who I am utterly devoted to, who need me simultaneously all the time. Whose needs do you put first? I’ll tell you one thing, the end of my tether has seen better days – she is frayed beyond recognition. I imagine this is the same for any family welcoming a new arrival. But for us it is slightly different. Why? Our secondborn is a rainbow baby.
I love my son and I am not a good enough writer to convert those feelings onto paper, and it was such a long road to get to him that he will forever and always be my boy wonder. Being pregnant with a rainbow baby is one thing – every speck of blood or odd cramp sent me flying through the MAU’s doors without a moment’s pause – but actually having him here is a whole different ball game.
I have to allow myself to moan. Babies are hard. So hard. No one can ever prepare you for what monumental changes occur when a baby arrives. Even on the very best day when they have been in a good mood, you’ve made a new mum friend, found an amazing baby group and managed a hot beverage (or ice cold if that’s your bag) it is the hardest day. You’re functioning on less sleep, probably got crusty shit under your nails and have taken twice as long to get anywhere. You haven’t spoken to your friends in weeks, you had to poo while the thing you hold most dear to you in all the world stares intensely at you without blinking and you’ve forgotten to feed the cats since December. Maybe that’s just me. And on a bad day well, Jesus, they are bad. Deaf in one ear from screams louder than an ambulance siren, no time to shower, four nappy changes before 7am, feet sore from walking endlessly trying to soothe them to sleep, limited brain function from constantly having to think, and you’re pretty sure there was mould on the crumpet you had for breakfast. Surely all this is enough to make anyone moan? Well add guilt onto the never ending ticker tape of emotions that makes up a mum. What do I have to moan about? The alternative would have been so much worse. What if I’d have lost him too? Maybe I should just be grateful for every moment. Good or bad. Maybe I should just let myself moan when it gets tough. His miraculous existence does not make him any easier to care for.
My two look so alike it is uncanny I cannot help wondering whether my other babies would have looked like them too. This doesn’t happen all the time but just occasionally I find my mind drifting into the dangerous world of what if. As my counsellor said, ‘of course they would have looked like their sister’. They would have been beautiful.
I can start to adjust to a world where I don’t have to go through that again. I can start thinking about things besides ovulation, invasive medical procedures and life changing phone calls. I can start making brain space for hobbies, for learning new things, for concentrating wholly on the children I do have rather than those that might be.
I am overly anxious. Ridiculously so. Nearly every action comes with a ‘oh something terrible could have happened then’ thought. I’ve only ever fallen down the stairs three times in my life, once when I was five, once when drunk, and once when the cat thought he would have a go at being a roller skate, yet all of a sudden I am constantly terrified I am going to go hurtling down any set of steps and hurt my baby. I have never been hit by a car, yet at least once a day I am standing on the kerb of a completely empty road waiting for a green man because the image of a double decker bus mowing me and the pram down is a little too vivid. I’m pretty sure this is down to the fact he was so long-awaited. My mind is still working its way up to fully allowing myself to just enjoy him.
Having a baby in my arms does not diminish the grief I still feel. I have spent the last four years having babies and losing pregnancies. So much of my time and energy was taken up with this that now my family is complete I technically don’t have to ever think about it ever again. But of course I do. Every single day. My first loss – a nameless miscarriage before a sex was discovered – would have been a bonny two year old this month. I walked past the room where the miscarriage began last week and all those feelings of panic and sadness came rushing back. The complex nature of pregnancy loss means you feel grief and joy all the time. A rainbow baby hopefully means that the grief will dissipate over time, but the remaining joy is always going to come tinged with the realisation that he only exists because we suffered loss. Does that mean the losses were necessary, or a good thing?
All I know is that he is a good thing. My very very good thing.